The President Signs the Thirteenth Amendment


On this day in 1865 President Abraham Lincoln signed the thirteenth amendment, forever abolishing legal slavery in this nation; culminating the horrific years expunging our American “original sin,” if not from our souls, at least from our law books.

Two and a half months later the president would be murdered.

I was deeply moved by this season’s film “Lincoln,” based in large part upon historian Dorris Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals,” which is also said to have inspired President Barack Obama to name Hillary Clinton his secretary of State.

I’ve been thinking how messy the advances of justice can be…

Later this year as I witnessed the Rhode Island House of Representatives, a crowd of folk that included a range of people from genuine intellectuals and statesmen and women to near illiterates and out and out buffoons, each with an equal vote – who through so many different routes came to overwhelmingly support marriage equality, our currently most pressing step toward that never ending quest for justice in our country. And now as we look forward to the work at the senate, I feel the heart of the movie working again, and how through high aspiration and low politics we are in fact advancing toward one more marker on the way.

All this reminding me of how Mr Obama commented on that line first spoken by Unitarian Transcendentalist minister Theodore Parker and echoed by the renowned Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, how there is in history an arc toward justice. The president commented sometimes people have to put their hand on that arc and bend it toward justice.

Here, I think of Augustus Saint-Gaudens memorial to the 54th Massachusetts & Robert Gould Shaw that stands not far from the front doors of the Unitarian Universalist denominational headquarters at 25 Beacon Street in Boston.

Sometimes that advance is purchased by blood.

Sometimes it is advanced by an appointment to a judgeship.

Sometimes mass demonstrations.

Sometimes a word to a politician over coffee.

Messy as it is, the advance happens.

Hands put to the task.

And, messy as it is, I’m so glad.

Step, by step…

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  • Ellen Skagerberg

    Sometimes it is advanced by a Hollywood movie that brings an ancient struggle to life, so that we not only feel that history today, but can feel today’s equivalents …


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